The Death of Digital Democracy
An SEO’s take on social media’s “fake news problem”, net neutrality, & the alarming trend towards censorship
I cut my professional teeth in SEO — or search engine optimization. To those who aren’t digital marketing nerds: SEO is the practice of making sure websites are visible in search engines for specific key terms. In other words, if you run an auto repair shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you want people near Grand Rapids to be able to find your information when they search “auto shops” — and so on and so forth.
When I joined the industry as an SEO copywriter in 2008, the rules of the industry (i.e. Google’s search ranking algorithms) were evolving faster than most marketing professionals and business owners could keep up with. Google’s team was writing the code for how results were gathered and filtered as they went, responding to an ever-increasing boom of information and users. A small faction of the infant digital marketing industry dove deep into blackhat tactics which gamed Google’s algorithmic preferences for measuring domain authority via keywords, link volume and anchor text — tactics like content wheels, and link farms, keyword stuffing, and other deceptive tactics which provided no value to readers or search engine users. Google’s webspam team worked at breakneck speed to stay one step ahead, and slowly but surely, with small businesses and cutting-edge marketing firms bearing the brunt of the many algorithm upheavals, they effectively won the battle.
As the industry’s brightest minds (including Seth Godin and Bill Gates) prophesied, content did indeed become king. Quality, research-backed, verified information rose to the top of search results as algorithms learned to read more like humans; the penalties for fake links and other blackhat tactics became so severe and swift that the snakeoil niche has all but dried up.
As a copywriter and a digital marketing professional, I identified the patterns in the evolution of search rankings early, and I made this my north star: quality content. I.e: good writing. Because, as a writer first and foremost, that’s what I do. I’ve always told clients that Google’s algorithms are, essentially, working to mimic human behavior. It wants to care about the same things users care about, so it can catalog and present information accordingly. So focusing on quality content is simply a no-brainer.
This pattern was backlit by what was Google’s mantra up until recently:
Don’t be evil.